Characterizing northern white-cedar communities in harvested and unharvested lowland forests of Michigan, USA

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College of Forest Resources and Environmental Science


Understanding the complexity of forest community dynamics is essential in forest management planning and stewardship, yet lowland northern white-cedar (Thuja occidentalis L.) are often managed as homogenous communities. Through this study, we defined lowland white-cedar forest community types in unharvested and harvested forest stands within the State of Michigan and examined community type associations with ecological variables. Data collected in unharvested stands revealed three white-cedar community subtypes: (1) cedar-deciduous, (2) cedar-conifer, and (3) cedar-shrub. These unharvested subtypes were dominated by white-cedar, yet characterized by different soils, hydrology, geochemical gradients, and associated tree species. In harvested stands, six community types were identified: (1) aspen-fir, (2) winterberry-willow, (3) balsam fir, (4) cedar-red maple, (5) cedar-black spruce, and (6) alder-tamarack. These harvested community types were located along ecological gradients, including soil type (organic or mineral) and soil water pH. Using community types in unharvested and harvested stands, and associated ecological gradients, potential pathways of compositional transition were theorized. Findings suggest that cedar community subtype affects the likelihood of cedar regeneration and dictates the alternative species replacing cedar after harvest. These findings and potential pathways are useful to forestry practitioners, as they highlight potential changes in tree species dominance following harvest across a range of lowland white-cedar community types, allowing refinement of silvicultural prescriptions to ensure desired outcomes.

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Wetlands Ecology and Management